1944 Pulitzer Prize Review: Journey In The Dark by Martin Flavin

“Sam Braden never talked about his father…” (opening lines)

His fifth and final work of fiction, Martin Flavin’s Journey In The Dark won both the Harper Prize (distributed by the Harper Brothers until it was discontinued post-1965) as well as the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. Shockingly, Journey In The Dark beat out Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the Pulitzer Prize.

Journey In The Dark is a novel set adrift by immense sea changes which took place across America from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. Amidst loads of allusions to Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, we are introduced to Sam Braden, son of a poor family from Wyattville, Ohio. He longs for stability and riches, and thus he falls in love with the wealthy town-namesake’s daughter, Eileen Wyatt. Nevertheless, he wanders for a bit and in these scenes we are treated to some pleasant scenes of small town life –snowy parks and hills for sledding, teenage kissing games, summers by the riverside, first-time jobs working in a town general store, and so on. One day, on a whim after a fishing trip, a teenaged Sam is caught in a storm and has intercourse with a neighborhood black girl named Cassie Cole who apparently becomes pregnant. However, his life just keeps rolling along from here.

We catch up with Sam sometime later after he has become a millionaire in Chicago (though not quite at the level of a “tycoon”), following a stint working as a telegraph operator for the emerging railroad system. He marries his childhood infatuation, Eilleen Wyatt, but their marriage quickly falls apart. They are soon separated and ultimately divorced. Sam volunteers as an officer candidate for the Field Artillery during World War I. Later, he is remarried, this time to a woman named Emilie who bears him a son named Hath. When Emilie dies, father and son are at odds and Hath dies a hero in World War II while Sam works in a defense plant. The novel ends as Sam receives news of his son’s death from Neill Wyatt.

While much of the novel lacks a crux or crescendo, I found myself naturally drawn to the brief historical interludes at the ends of most chapters –passages like the following:

“The year, drawing to its close, was 1892. Grover Cleveland, after sitting out one session, had been re-elected President of the United States. He had published a letter warning the nation that the silver policy must be result in a crisis of great severity. This prediction had been amply confirmed and the country was now in the grip of a depression. Factories were closing down and men were unemployed… The times were perilous – the kind of times when smart and careful bankers watched every move of things – like hawks, still in the wind with planing wings” (45).

All things considered, Journey In The Dark is a mildly engaging albeit long and wandering story of one “everyman’s” life during the remarkable changes which took place at the turn of the 20th century. However, I would respectfully submit that this is one of less memorable Pulitzer Prize winners. There are some nice personal and historical reflections, however Martin Flavin simply does not have much to say here –and my biggest criticism is that the most compelling plot thread, the childhood story in which Sam impregnates a girl, ultimately fades away without significance, never again to be revisited. Surely, we can encounter better Pulitzer Prize winners along this journey.

The following are some notable quotations I encountered while reading:

“And suppose he should come face to face with Eileen Wyatt. She was in his class at school, and he was strangely fascinated by her, though he always pretended not to notice her. She had blonde curls and she was very pretty” (25).

“And in all that years that followed he would not forget this moment, nor would there be another in his life which would quite equal this” (38 –upon gifting his mother a diamond to his mother as she weeps with joy).

“Still, it should not be inferred that Sam’s boyhood was a melancholy sequence of frustrations and defeats. On the whole he led a healthy, carefree life whose underprivileged aspects which, in some degree he shared with numerous other boys of his acquaintance, were seldom in his thought unless events demanded their consideration” (49).

“It took Sam nearly thirty years to acquire his first million… There was nothing spectacular about it: hard work, eternal vigilance, and a kind of native shrewdness – these plus Lady Luck, who smiled at him at last, ultimately turned the trick. And the million, once acquired, quickly multiplied itself, for wealth breeds wealth, and even stupid people with a nest egg of this sort are as likely as not to go on getting richer” (105-106).

“Life proceeds at an uneven pace, in jerks and spurts, like growing plants and children. It rushes headlong for a whole and then it seems to stop. It is not unlike a river, tearing through a narrow channel over shoals and treacherous rocks, and then abruptly spreading out into a placid stream, ripples slowly on its way -or, trapped in an eddy near the shore, may actually flow backwards for a time” (129-130).

“Chicago, proud city whose motto is ‘I Will.’ Sam loved it from the start, in common with countless other boys who came flocking from the farms and country towns throughout the Middle West. And it opened wide its arms and took them in. It was made for them and they for it – like Mecca for the Moslems, a holy city and their own, the heart of their America, the fulfillment of a promise” (162).

“There are events which have an inexorable quality –which, though unforeseen, and regardless if they be malignant or benign, yet seem completely right– a fulfillment of design, without alternative” (370).

On the 1944 Pulitzer Prize Decision

The 1944 Pulitzer Prize Jury was composed of the same three members as the prior year: John R. Chamberlain (Chair), Lewis S. Gannett, and Maxwell S. Geismar. They apparently discussed a variety of books for the award including John P. Marquand’s So Little Time, Martin Flavin’s Journey in the Dark, Christine Weston’s Indigo, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, John Dos Passos’s Number One, and Ira Wolfert’s Tucker’s People.

Who Is Martin Flavin?

Martin Archer Flavin (1883-1967) was born in San Francisco. He attended the University of Chicago from 1903-1905. He was married three times and had three children from his first two marriages. For a short time he served in the United States Army in field artillery (not unlike Sam Braden in Journey In The Dark). Mr. Flavin was a factory worker and businessman for a period of twelve years, beginning as an office boy and working himself up to the vice presidency of a wallpaper company, but he then left in 1929 to fully devote his life to writing. Throughout his career he wrote a total of five novels, two works of nonfiction, twelve plays, and he also co-wrote several Hollywood screenplays, including portions of the first big prison film, The Big House (1930).

Martin Flavin died at the age of 84 in Carmel, California on December 28, 1967 after succumbing to injuries from a bad fall. His papers were later donated to the University of Chicago.

Flavin, Martin. Journey In The Dark. Avon Books (Hearst Corporation, published by arrangement with Harper and Row), third Avon Printing edition, New York, New York, 1965.

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.

1943 Pulitzer Prize Review: Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair

“In tragic times like these, an elderly author has nothing to give but words. This collection of words is dedicated to the men and women in many parts of the world who are giving their lives in the cause of freedom and human decency.”
-Autumn 1941 (Upton Sinclair’s opening dedication)

Written during the throes of World War II, Dragon’s Teeth is the third novel in Upton Sinclair’s “World’s End” series (also sometimes called the “Lanny Budd” series). While it was initially considered for the 1942 Pulitzer Prize, Dragon’s Teeth actually won the Prize the following year in 1943 for reasons explicated below. Between 1940 and 1953, Mr. Sinclair published a total of eleven novels in the “Lanny Budd” series, each book featured the central protagonist Lanny Budd, a young left-leaning socialist whose upper-class activities are buttressed by his family’s wealth thanks to a successful munitions company entitled the Budd Gunmakers Company (in truth, there was an actual company named the Budd Company which manufactured arms during World War II, founded by Edward G. Budd in 1912). Apparently, Lanny Budd was a composite figure of several people known to Mr. Sinclair: art dealer Martin Birnbaum and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. among others. There is an interesting duality within Lanny –a contrast between Lanny’s elitist lifestyle on the one hand, and his abstract academic concern for the working poor on the other plays a central tension in the novel.

In fact, throughout nearly all of Dragon’s Teeth we experience the eccentricities of this prosperous patrician –his world is one of yachts, fine art, quality wine, operas, symphonies, and European villas– meanwhile economic and political troubles begin to brew all across the world. At the outset in France, Lanny’s wife, Irma, gives birth to a daughter named Frances. Irma is, herself, the daughter of a New York utilities magnate and she is heiress of the “Barnes fortune” –a family trust valued at $23M in assets alongside a vast Long Island estate. She represents the “old money” conservatism of yesteryear’s oligarchs as well as an outdated way of thinking which is in contrast to Lanny’s modestly righteous concern for social justice. After the birth of Frances, Lanny and Irma decide to leave their newborn daughter in the care of a nanny, freeing themselves to sail around Europe aboard a yacht entitled the Bessie Budd. En route to the best ports around Europe — France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany, and Russia among others– Lanny and the group wander through ancient ruins while contemplating the decaying fabric of human civilization. To set the scene, their venture coincides with the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe shortly before the outbreak of World War II.

After the stock market collapse, Lanny begins to sense a creeping specter of viciousness rising amidst the class warfare beginning to permeate Europe –from growing racial prejudice and demagogic populism, to newfangled anarchistic separatism and revolutionary bolshevism. “Nobody understood these events, nobody could predict them. You would hear people say: ‘The bottom has been reached now; things are bound to take a turn.’ They would bet their money on it – and then, next day or next week, stocks would be tumbling and everybody terrified” (135).

The excitement begins in Book II where we experience the impassioned exhilaration of an early Nazi rally. The yacht carrying Lanny and Irma arrives in Germany a week or so prior to the raucous 1930 election: “The city was in an uproar, with posters and placards everywhere, hundreds of meetings each night, parades with bands and banners, crowds shouting and often fighting. The tension was beyond anything that Lanny had ever witnessed; under the pressure of the economic collapse events in Germany were coming to a crisis, and everybody was being compelled to take sides” (107). Scores of disaffected lower middle class workers, burdened by the recession and dreams of regaining Germany’s lost greatness, chant ecstatically at the sight of the “everyman” Fuhrer. Waving flags, they berate the traitorous French and Poles, while blaming immigrants and Jews for poisoning their “superior” Aryan bloodline, and they hold fast to the promise of making Germany a great power once again –“Down with Versailles!”

Lanny and his friends are given an audience with Hitler, himself, along with several other high-ranking Nazi officers. These remarkable scenes examine characters with the courage to oppose the Nazi ethos (like Lanny) and those who decide to compromise their values in exchange for personal safety (like Irma). As time goes by, it becomes apparent that the forgotten “little people” of Germany who have been exploited by the industrialists of the west and the landlords of the east have willingly elected a monstrous new regime. Refugees quickly file out of the country and into France as academics, Jews, Romani, suspected homosexuals, socialists, bolsheviks, and other types of “others” are quietly rounded up. Newspapers are shut down and sham elections are advanced while Hitler marches toward solidifying his power. President von Hindenberg shocks the world when he appoints Hitler as Chancellor which is followed by immediate crackdowns under the auspices of neutralizing the communist “threat” and they mobilize young fanatics who begin a new reign of terror.

“Adolf Hitler taught that the masses did not think with their brains but with their blood; that is to say, they did not reason but were driven by instincts. The most basic instinct was the desire to survive and the fear of not surviving; therefore Adolf Hitler told that their enemies desired to destroy them and that he alone could and would save them…” (252).

One of Lanny’s Jewish compatriots –Freddi Robin– is placed in the Dachau concentration camp and, against his wife’s wishes, Lanny returns one final time to Germany under the guise of selling high-brow art works by his father-in-law, while secretly attempting to release his friend from imprisonment. Conversations with Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels seem to go nowhere, the Nazis then seize the yacht, and Lanny is also imprisoned where he is very nearly tortured but he is released at the last moment and the closing pages of the book reveal that his quest to be an unexpected success, but the greater tragedy is only beginning to unfold across the continent.

There is quite a lot of fluff which pads this 600-plus page novel as Lanny seemingly wanders aimlessly across Europe for most of the story, with much of the action occurring in the final sections of the book, however to the casual reader I might recommend reading only the specific sections wherein Lanny pays visit to Nazi Germany. Despite Upton Sinclair’s reputation as a bombastic socialist, Dragon’s Teeth is actually quite nuanced, or at least it is not a purely polemical work. That being said, I do not feel particularly compelled to read more of the Lanny Budd series.

The novel’s title comes from Lanny’s tearful reflections at the end of the book –he weeps for the Jews of Europe, the viciousness of the growing populist spirit, and for all the diligent men plowing the soils of Europe and sowing dragon’s teeth –from which, as old legends state, armed men will someday spring forth. A bit of research reveals this legend to be of ancient Greek origin, as featured in Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, in which the planting of dragon’s teeth breeds a new band of vicious warriors (“spartoi”) who fight amongst themselves and before the survivors found the city of Thebes. Colloquially, the phrase “to sow dragon’s teeth” is akin to spawning discord –perhaps not unlike the rising discord displayed throughout Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth. In a cruel twist of historical irony, Upton Sinclair’s books were later burned by the Nazis.

The following are some notable quotations I discovered while reading this Pulitzer Prize winner:

“…such details were eagerly read by a public which lived upon the doings of the rich, as the ancient Greeks had lived upon the affairs of the immortals who dwelt upon the snowy top of Mount Olympus” (7, regarding the details of Lanny and Irma’s wealthy families).

“Marriage was a strange adventure; you let yourself in for a lot of things you couldn’t have foreseen” (27).

“Instead of peace the nations of the world had got more armaments and more debts. Instead of prosperity had come a financial collapse in Wall Street, and all were trembling lest it spread to the rest of the world” (40).

“Play your music, read your books, think your own thoughts, and never let yourselves be drawn into an argument! Not an altogether satisfactory way of life, but the only one possible in times when the world is changing so fast that parents and children may be a thousand years apart in their ideas and ideals” (41).

“…he kept wishing that people would stop robbing and killing one another and settle down to this task of finding out what they really were” (50).

“The Hitler Youth constituted the branches where the abundant new growth was burgeoning; for this part of the tree all the rest existed. The future Germany must be taught to march and to fight, to sing songs of glory, hymns to the new Fatherland it was going to build” (111).

“Yes, there were still some who had money and would not fail in their economic duty! People who had seen the storm coming and put their fortune into bonds; people who owned strategic industries, such as the putting up of canned spaghetti for the use of millions who lived in tiny apartments in cities and had never learned how to make tomato sauce!” (156).

“Say the very simplest and most obvious things, say them as often as possible, and put into the saying all the screaming passion which one human voice can carry – that was Adolf Hitler’s technique. He had been applying it for thirteen years, ever since the accursed treaty had been signed, and now he was at the climax of his efforts” (250).

“Assuredly neither of the Plinys, uncle or nephew, had confronted more terrifying natural phenomena than did the Weimar Republic at the beginning of this year 1933” (277).

“It is a dream, and the German people will wake up from it…” (513).

The 1943 Pulitzer Prize Decision
The debacle from the prior year (1942) led the Pulitzer Advisory Board to consider awarding the Pulitzer Prize to Dragon’s Teeth, however since the book was technically published in 1942, it was ineligible for the award and Ellen Glagow’s In This Our Life won instead (click here to read my reflections). In the midst of behind-the-scenes tumult, all three long-serving Jurors abruptly resigned which suddenly opened the door for new voices to serve on the Jury in 1943.

The 1943 Pulitzer Jury was composed of: John R. Chamberlain (Chair), a former anti-war advocate who wrote for a variety of publications —The New York Times, Time, Life, Fortune, and Scribner’s and Harper’s magazines– but by the early 1940s he had shifted into a more libertarian/right-leaning political conviction. He began writing for The Wall Street Journal, taught journalism at Columbia University, and then became a celebrated book reviewer for a libertarian publication entitled The Freeman. The other two Jurors in 1943 were: Lewis S. Gannett, a writer and book critic for the New York Herald Tribune; and Maxwell S. Geismar, a Columbia University alumnus and teacher at Harvard who became a famous literary critic for a variety of publications including The New York Times Book Review, The New York Herald Tribune, The Nation, The American Scholar, The Saturday Review of Books, The Yale Review, The Virginia Quarterly, Encyclopedia Britannica and Compton’s Encyclopedia (he also penned a notoriously belligerent critique of Henry James). These three Jurors continued to serve together the following year. Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Geismar would also continue serving for several more years thereafter, as well.

Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth was listed as the first choice of two Jurors, and it was the second choice of the third. Aside from Dragon’s Teeth, there were two other novels recommended among the Jurors: The Just and the Unjust by James Cozzens, and The Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport. Because Dragon’s Teeth had been previously suggested by the Pulitzer Advisory Board the prior year, there were no objections this time around.

Who Is Upton Sinclair?

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) lived an extraordinary life. He was born in Baltimore, MD to an alcoholic liquor salesman for a father who died in 1907 due to delirium tremens, and a pious upper-crust mother. Upton Jr.’s paternal great-grandfather was a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The Sinclair lineage was considered aristocratic in the American sense. They were founders of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and their sons were distinguished Naval officers until the end of the Civil War which displaced the Confederacy. As a young man, Mr. Sinclair studied at the City College of New York and even pursued a law degree at Columbia University. He regularly signed up for classes and then routinely dropped them while teaching himself many languages like French, Spanish, and German. In addition to studying for his degrees he also began supporting himself by writing and selling various pulp stories.

Mr. Sinclair was always a bit of an eccentric. He refused to speak with his mother for many years over a small argument. He was obsessive about consuming a rigid diet of raw vegetables and nuts. He also became enamored with the practice of strict sexual abstinence. Despite his proclivity for abstinence, Mr. Sinclair was soon reconnected with an old childhood friend named Meta Fuller and, against all advice, they were married in 1900. Amusingly, they both attempted to maintain abstinence throughout their marriage, but Meta soon became pregnant almost anyway (she made numerous attempts to terminate the pregnancy). At any rate, both spouses dabbled in affairs and Meta had an illegitimate child with someone else before eventually leaving Upton for a poet. Not to be deterred, Mr. Sinclair remarried that very same year to Mary Craig Kimbrough.

Throughout this period, he wrote poetry and gradually became politically active as an avowed socialist. At one point, he founded a socialist colony (it burned down under mysterious circumstances), he deepened his involvement in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Mr. Sinclair spent several weeks in cognito at a Chicago meatpacking plant which became the basis of his 1906 bestseller The Jungle, a muckraking novel published as a serial in the socialist newspaper Appeal To Reason (which was in operation from 1895-1922) The novel details harsh working conditions faced by immigrants in Chicago’s meat-packing industry. Mr. Sinclair intended The Jungle to be a call for socialism in America, however most readers were simply appalled by its depictions of unsanitary working conditions leading to stronger federal regulations like the Meat Inspection Act (1906). Today, The Jungle is remembered as Mr. Sinclair’s most important work. At the time of its publication The Jungle was praised by Winston Churchill and criticized by Theodore Roosevelt.

Mr. Sinclair became a well-known agitator. He organized demonstrations in New York against John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, and he also wrote polemics against big oil, coal, and the auto robber barons. Between 1940-1953, Mr. Sinclair wrote his bestselling Lanny Budd series –a collection of eleven novels following an aspiring young socialist as he encounters the most important people and events of the 20th century. The third installment Dragon’s Teeth won the Pulitzer Prize, though today these books are mostly out of print.

In the 1920s, Mr. Sinclair and his second wife moved to California where he grew connected to the burgeoning film industry, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Mr. Sinclair also developed a personal fascination with telepathy and the occult, as well as strict vegetarian diet. He founded the California chapter of the ACLU and twice ran unsuccessfully for United States Congress on the Socialist Party ticket: in 1920 for the House of Representatives and in 1922 for the Senate. He was the Socialist Party candidate for Governor of California in 1926 and again in 1930. In 1934, he ran as a Democrat under the “End Poverty in California” (EPIC), but he was resoundingly defeated by incumbent Governor Frank Merriam. After his populist, rabble-rousing campaign in 1934, big business Hollywood studio bosses turned against Mr. Sinclair and his questionable campaign tactics. He was expelled from the Democratic party.

After his second wife died, Mr. Sinclair remarried for the third and final time to Mary Elizabeth Willis. The couple moved to Arizona for a spell before returning to the east coast and settling in New Jersey where they both died in a nursing home –Mary in 1967 and Upton the following year in 1968. Today, his former home in Monrovia, CA is a privately owned historical landmark.

Sinclair, Upton. Dragon’s Teeth. The Viking. Press, New York, 1945 (originally published in 1942).

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.

Click here to read my reflections on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

1942 Pulitzer Prize Review: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow

“Your creeds are dead, your rites are dead,
Your social order too!
Where tarries he, the Power who said:
See, I make things all new?”

In This Our Life is a drab and dreary novel that suffers from a burdensome lack of inspiration or motivation. Mirroring the life of its depressive author Ellen Glasgow, In This Our Life is a bleak story about uprootedness, discontentment, and the fruitless attempt of one family to discover its own happiness. The novel is told in three parts (Part First: Family Feeling, Part Second: Years of Unreason, Part Third: All Things New) and it trails a cohort of “decaying aristocrats” living in Virginia just prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Our protagonist (and the only moderately likable character in the book) is Asa Timberlake, a 60 year-old man whose once-prosperous Virginia family has fallen on hard times. He now works in his family’s former business, The Timberlake Tobacco Factory, which was previously the finest tobacco company in Virginia until it was acquired by the Standard Tobacco Company. In the old days, Asa’s father personally knew the faces and names of all the factory employees, but the business is now run by a corporate behemoth in New York, as such it has devolved into a drab and impersonal place to work (the decline of this once-great family echoes earlier Pulitzer Prize-winners like The Magnificent Ambersons and Early Autumn). Sadly, when Asa’s father lost his good health as well as the family’s fortune, he ended his life by shooting himself. Now, Asa has inherited a broken family and his meager estate relies on the financial support the unpleasant William Fitzroy. At the start of the novel, the Timberlake family’s elegant home is demolished, a reminder of the impermanence of things, and throughout the novel Asa’s loveless marriage sits in a state of complacency –his hypochondriac wife Lavinia remains bedridden and emotionally distant. Asa’s only escape comes when visiting a neighboring farm where a lovely widow named Kate resides with her two dogs (Lavinia has forbidden Asa from having a dog). Much of the novel concerns Asa’s two daughters (both given masculine names for inexplicable reasons): Roy and Stanley. Roy is the mature, level-headed elder sister, while Stanley is the petulant, narcissistic younger sister.

“Like all other successful men of his time and his place in the South, he had seen, as a child, the ruin of his family fortunes and the complete reversal of a social system” (114).

As the novel progresses, both Roy and Stanley become engaged to two suitable men. Roy marries a surgeon while Stanley is betrothed to a lawyer, but the ever-vain and indulgent child, Stanley steals Roy’s husband and both sisters’ marriages completely fall apart. There is a lot of depression, physical abuse, and suicide (Roy’s one-time husband shoots himself), and we are treated to constant reminders that nothing truly lasts in this life. We are also offered a backstory of a young Black driver named Parry, a boy with dreams of one day becoming a lawyer. He is wrongfully blamed for a reckless car accident which injures a White woman and kills an innocent girl carrying pink flowers. In truth, it was actually Stanley who caused the accident while on an alcoholic binge. Naturally, Stanley faces no consequences for her actions and the novel ends without resolution or redemption. At the very least Asa makes a phone call which exonerates Parry and grants him the freedom to return home to his parents while avoiding any more time in the squalid “Negro jail cell.” In a strange coda at the close of the novel, Roy briefly runs away from home with plans to head for New York but she stays for a night at a random strange man’s house before briefly returning home because she had forgotten her clothes. In This Our Life ends here, with Asa wondering if his morally bankrupt family can be salvaged. I am not quite sure how this novel won a Pulitzer, I suppose Part III is the only mildly significant or engaging section of the book, but you need to read about 350 pages to get there! To be fair, there are some sobering, reflective, existential passages peppered throughout the text, but all too often Ellen Glasgow masks any shred of profundity in the facade of pure lugubriousness. Her sense of hopelessness is often confused with depth. At any rate, of all the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels I have read thus far I would rank In This Our Life among the worst.

The title for this novel was apparently borrowed from the sonnet collection “Modern Love” by 19th century Victorian poet and novelist George Meredith: “Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul/ When hot for certainties in this our life!” In 1941, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to In This Our Life for $40,000 to create a movie starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland as sisters Roy and Stanley. It was released in 1942 under the direction of John Huston as well as Raoul Walsh (Walsh was uncredited in this directorial role when John Huston was called away for war-time activities). Naturally, Hollywood downplayed some of the more depressing plot points in the film and the ending was understandably wholly rewritten. It was actually John Huston’s second directorial assignment after The Maltese Falcon, and by all accounts In This Our Life was a bit of a sophomoric effort on his behalf, it was greatly overshadowed by his later more impressive directorial efforts.

The following are a collection of quotations I deemed worthy of sharing:

“The street was darkened by a smoky sunset, and light had not yet come on in the lamps near the empty house. Under a troubled sky the old house looked deserted but charged with reality” (3 -opening lines).

“He was a bookish chap, and learning from books had always been easier than learning from life” (6).

“They will never again build like this, he thought. Dignity is an anachronism. Yes, the old house was going out with its age, with its world, with its manners, with its fashion in architecture” (8).

“Acceleration, not beauty, was the strange god of our modern worship” (63).

“‘Happiness. I want happiness… Oh, Father, I’m so wretched! I’m so terribly wretched…'” (343).

“It’s fear that does most of the harm in life: and he saw all the evils in the world, the whole sinister brood, spawned by fear” (409-410).

On the 1942 Pulitzer Prize Decision
The 1942 Pulitzer Jury was composed of returning veterans Jefferson Fletcher and Joseph Krutch, and they were joined by Gilbert Highet, a Scottish-American Classics professor at Columbia University (he replaced Dorothy Fisher from the previous year).

When it came time to present their recommendations to the Pulitzer Advisory Board at Columbia, the Jury noted that “none of the novels brought to its attention seemed of really outstanding merit or equal to many at least of those which have received the prize in the past.” If not for the fact that the previous year also issued no award (Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls was infamously snubbed) the Jury would have preferred not to issue an award again in 1942. Nevertheless, they presented four of the least awful novels in no particular order: Windswept by Mary Ellen Chase, The Great Big Doorstep by E. P. O’Donnell, Storm by George Stewart, and Green Centuries by Caroline Gordon.

However, the Advisory Board rejected all four of these recommendations. Instead members of the Advisory Board sent various letters to Joseph Pulitzer, Jr. –son of the award’s founder– with the hope of securing his blessing. Novelist W. E. Woodward praised Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth, however the novel was actually published in 1942 (not 1941) and thus it was ineligible for the year’s consideration, however it would go on to win the Pulitzer the following year. Another Board member Julian LeRose Harris of The Chattanooga Times suggested the latest novel by Ellen Glasgow, In This Our Life, would be a top quality choice. He intended the award to be in recognition of her full body of work, while praising her as one of the best and under-appreciated writers of his generation (at the time Ms. Glasgow was nearly 70 years old). This was enough to persuade the Board and so In This Our Life was selected as the winner, although of course today posterity has not exactly smiled upon Ms. Glasgow’s body of literary work.

Dismayed but accepting of the Board’s decision, the three members of the Novel Jury quietly elected not to return the following year thus ending the incredible tenure of Jefferson B. Fletcher as a Pulitzer Jurist. During his decades serving on the Novel Jury he had overseen Pulitzers awarded to the likes of Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, Thornton Wilder, Pearl S. Buck, Margaret Mitchell, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and John Steinbeck to name a few. The future of the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel now lay in question as a whole new Jury was to emerge in 1943 and lingering tensions still persisted over the true seat of authority between the opposing governing bodies: the Advisory Board or the Novel Jury.

Who is Ellen Glasgow?
Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) was a lifelong Virginian. She published some 20 novels during her time, many of which focused on the plight of women during the years of social change in the post-Reconstruction South, though none of her books is celebrated as much as her 1942 Pulitzer Prize-winner, In This Our Life.

Ms. Glasgow was raised in Richmond, Virginia at 1 West Main Street, a home which now stands as a National Historic Landmark. Interestingly enough, it has been listed for sale in recent years asking north of $2M. At any rate, Ms. Glasgow also spent her summers at the Jerdone Castle plantation which her father purchased in 1879, and between these two homes Ms. Glasgow wrote many of her celebrated novels. Her father had been head of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, the main supplier of munitions for the Confederacy during the Civil War and thus her family was prominent and financially stable.

Ms. Glasgow’s first short story was published in 1895, but shortly thereafter tragedy struck when her mother died and then her beloved brother-in-law and mentor suddenly killed himself. To escape the gloom, Ms. Glasgow headed for New York where she attempted to secure a literary agent but the agent in question made aggressive advances on her so Ms. Glasgow soon departed. During her lifetime, she never married but was engaged twice, once to a minister and once to a lawyer. She also had several prominent affairs during her lifetime, including with an anonymous married man she only ever referred to as “Gerald B.”

In later years, Ms. Glasgow’s brother also killed himself and her sister died shortly thereafter of cancer. With so much grief and tragedy in her life (she once called her life a “long tragedy”), Ms. Glasgow also attempted suicide herself but she failed. Following years of ill health, she died of a heart attack in 1945. At the time of Ms. Glasgow’s death, fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (author of The Yearling) was drafting a biography of her late friend and fellow writer, a project which was never completed.

Glasgow, Ellen. In This Our Life. Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1941. First Edition.

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.

1938 Pulitzer Prize Review: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand

Upon reading an advanced copy of The Late George Apley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, Sinclair Lewis wrote the following message: “I started to read it and it appeared to me to be an exact and very detailed picture of a Boston aristocrat… One can never be sure about Boston, and I hope I am not mistaken in my idea that the author is kidding the Boston idea. It is very subtle and clever, and I am not sure that Boston will get it.”

A mirror of its author’s own life, The Late George Apley offers a charming but satirical portrait of an upper-crust Boston Brahmin from birth until death. It is epistolary in style, not unlike a later Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004)click here to read my reflections on Gilead. The Late George Apley employs a sense of realism, akin to an earlier Pulitzer Prize winner The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927)click here to read my reflections on The Bridge of San Luis Rey— as we are offered a variety of fragmentary letters representing key moments in the life of the recently deceased George Apley (1866-1933). His fictional biography is presented to us by George Apley’s friend, Horatio Willing, Boston’s Dean of Letters and an amusing gentleman in his own right with experiencing compiling other notes and letters of prominent Bostonians. Why write a book about George Apley? Mr. Willing was apparently spurred to edit the biography at the insistence of Mr. Apley’s somewhat rebellious son, John. According to Mr. Willing “At no time in the history of the world have such material changes occurred as those in George Apley’s life span” (29). The novel asks us to piece together George Apley’s life through the writings of various people who knew him, perhaps not unlike the interviews presented in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941).

The story, at least insofar as there exists a narrative, guides us through the history of the Apley family from their place of origin in Sussex, England before emigrating to the United States and embarking on various businesses ventures including in the slave trade, but the true source of their wealth comes several generations later via enterprises in the Boston shipping industry. George Apley is raised alongside the Charles River at his family’s home on Beacon Street in Boston as well as the family’s country estate at Hillcrest. He attends Mr. Hobson’s school as a boy, and then Harvard where he participates in many clubs, student government, and so on. He is often found quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson in his “quiet world of mind and order” (41).

George Apley’s father Thomas is a stuffy conservative textile businessman who favors protectionism for his industry, while his mother is something of a socialite. We learn of an incident in George Apley’s life –an incident which he wanted removed from his own biography but which was included anyway at his son John Apley’s request– an incident in which he falls in love with a demure but respectable young woman named Mary Monahan. At any rate, his time at Harvard is followed by a sailing trip to Europe before Mr. Apley again returns to Boston to attend Harvard Law School. He then becomes engaged to a young woman named Catharine Bosworth and their marriage is “in every way an eminently suitable match” (119). George Apley spends his days at various clubs and philanthropic organizations and he writes a paper called “Jonas Good of Cow Corner” a scholarly paper tracing the characteristics of the many owners of a particular parcel in North East Boston which he presents to the gentleman’ club, the Browsers’ Club in Boston. Presently the parcel is occupied by restaurant and laundry. This was a fascinating little interlude in my view, but all of it remains mostly superficial without much depth (and I think this is a key point of the novel –superficiality). As time goes by, marital discord ensues when they are unable to decide on a name for their firstborn. We learn of the passing of Mr. Apley’s father and thus George becomes leader of the prominent Apley family. As the years go by he becomes a grandfather, and begins to experience failing health while traveling through Rome. He founds a nature camp retreat for men in Maine called the Pequod Island Camp. We learn of his support for World War I, even though he cannot personally serve himself and he expresses disappointment toward a reluctant nation for the war effort, so he demands for moral action. As a much older man he becomes active in efforts to preserve the old, high-brow Puritan and Protestant associations in Boston. In the end, George Apley dies in 1933.

The Late George Apley, which 1930s writer Percy Hutchison of the The New York Times called “a finely perceptive novel” is a celebration of the Bostonian spirit as we watch George Apley transformed into a high-minded gentleman. In fact George Apley says of himself “I am the sort of man I am, because environment prevented my being anything else” (3). He is a reflection of the all-encompassing ethos of Boston, by the end of the novel he claims the following: “And indeed… it is a good place to live in, taken all in all. Probably the best place in this neurotic world, with the possible exception of London, although I am not even sure about this. At any rate, it is the only place I care to live in” (323).

The central question of the novel concerns George Apley’s character and whether or not he resigns himself to an elite world of conformity. Is he a courageous gentleman, as our narrator would have us believe? Or is he instead a mere frivolous trust-fund recipient, devoid of honor and lacking in substance? Personally, I am inclined to find Mr. Apley somewhere in the middle. The Late George Apley is mostly a winking lampoon of the decaying aristocracy of old Boston, but there is nevertheless an air of quiet virtue about the late George Apley.

The following are some key quotations I found while reading along:

“George William Apley was born in the house of his maternal grandfather, William Leeds Hancock, on the steeper part of Mount Vernon Street, on Beacon Hill, on January 25, 1866” (3 -opening lines).

“And now arises a final question and one which has perplexed many another biographer. What is truth in a life? In order to delineate character there must be an artistic stressing of certain qualities –but are these the vital qualities? Who has the right to say?” (7-8).

“To a casual observer, from another section than our own, these works my not seem worth preserving. Taken individually this may be so, but collectively they reveal the spirit of the man and his influence on the life around him. They reveal too, I think, the true spirit of our city and of our time, since Apley was so essentially a part of both” (8).

“Biography, like every other branch of art, must have its form and its conventions” (9).

“Pride in family, place, and tradition were inherent within the man; his realization of their importance grew with the years, until many of his activities became centered about genealogical research” (27).

“There is no doubt that in the broader sense Apley was a man beloved by all” (321).

The Late George Apley was made into a Broadway Play in 1944. A film version was also made in 1947 directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Ronald Colman as George Apley. This was followed by a television program from 1955-1957.

On The 1938 Pulitzer Decision
For the first time since 1929, the Novel Jury was slightly changed following the death of multi-year Juror in 1937 Albert B. Paine, notable Mark Twain biographer. He was replaced by a new Chairman, Joseph W. Krutch, a theater critic for The Nation and Columbia University professor with a focus on ecology and pantheistic naturalism. His book entitled The Measure of Man (1954) won the National Book Award. He was joined by returning Jurors and fellow Columbia professors, Jefferson B. Fletcher and Robert M. Lovett

The Late George Apley was unanimously selected by the Jury along with two possible runners-up: The Sound of Running Feet by Josephine Lawrence, and Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts. With the benefit of hindsight it quite astounding that neither John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, nor Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, nor the collected U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos made the cut for the Novel Jury in 1937 (and to a lesser extent, both John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and Ernest Hemingway’s To Have And Have Not were also overlooked that year).

Who Is John P. Marquand?
John Phillips Marquand (1893-1960) was once was hailed as “the most successful novelist in the United States” by Life Magazine in 1944. Like the protagonist of his most famous novel (George Apley), Mr. Marquand was a descendent of the early governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as well as of prosperous shipping magnates but his family lost all their wealth in the Panic of 1907. He was a Harvard alumnus and later became a part-time war correspondent.

During the 1930s, Marquand was a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post, where he debuted the character of Mr. Moto, a Japanese secret agent. This led to a series of popular novels. Three years later, Marquand won the Pulitzer Prize for The Late George Apley. Its critical success led to his appearance on the cover of both Time Magazine as well as Newsweek. Several more novels followed in the proceeding years: H.M. Pulham, Esquire (1941), So Little Time (1943), B.F.’s Daughter (1946), Point of No Return (1949), Melvin Goodwin, USA (1952), Sincerely, Willis Wayde (1955), and Women and Thomas Harrow (1959), each of them chronicling life in early 20th century New England for which John Marquand was dubbed a ‘Martini Age Victorian” by the critic Charles Brady in 1952.

Mr. Marquand was married twice, both of them ending in divorce, and produced a total of five children. He died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 66 in 1960 at his home in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Marquand, John. The Late George Apley. Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1936.

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.